Affinity Groups

Affinity groups are the most basic structure of the Iran Pledge of Resistance. All those who take the pledge are committing to take action with others, because we cannot hope to create change by ourselves. After taking the pledge, the next step is connecting with others in your community who also want to work to prevent war with Iran; these can be people you already organize with, interested friends or people in your congregation, or we can connect you with others in your area who have already taken the pledge. To get in touch with people locally, email info@iranpledge.org.

Affinity groups will form locally to decide what type of actions they want to take to prevent a U.S. war with Iran, and connect with other local affinity groups to coordinate local efforts. These clusters of local affinity groups then become part of the national network, sharing resources and ideas, coordinating days of action, and making decisions to drive the overall campaign.

What are affinity groups and how do they work?

Affinity groups are self-sufficient support systems of about 5 to 15 people. A number of affinity groups may work together toward a common goal in a large action, or one affinity group might conceive of and carry out an action on its own. Sometimes, affinity groups remain together over a long period of time, existing as political support and/or study groups, and only occasionally participating in actions. Affinity groups are composed of people who have been brought together at a nonviolence training or have existing ties such as friendship, living in the same area, or working together.

Affinity groups challenge top-down decision-making and organizing, and empower those involved to take creative direct action. Affinity groups allow people to “be” the action they want to see by giving complete freedom and decision-making power to the affinity group. Affinity groups by nature are decentralized and non-hierarchical.

Affinity groups form the basic decision-making bodies of mass actions. They are usually considered “autonomous,” independently entitled to develop any form of participation they choose, as long as they remain within the nonviolence guidelines. Groups of affinity groups working together are sometimes called “clusters.” A large action can have several large “clusters” all working together.  In large actions, affinity groups usually send “spokespersons” to a “spokescouncil” meeting, to communicate and coordinate the different groups’ decisions and then bring the coordinated information or proposal back to their respective groups for their final discussion and approval.

Affinity groups also serve as a source of support for the members and reinforce a sense of solidarity. They provide a solution to the isolation or separation that can come to individuals acting alone. By including all participants in a circle of familiarity and acquaintance, the affinity group structure reduces the possibility of infiltration by outside agents or provocateurs. If anew person asks to join an affinity group, s/he should find out what the group believes in and what they plan to do, and decide ifs/he can share in it.

Clusters and Spokes Councils

A cluster is a grouping of affinity groups that come together to work on a certain task or part of a larger action. Thus, a cluster might be responsible for blockading an area, organizing one day of a multi-day action, or putting together and performing a mass street theater performance. Clusters could be organized around where affinity groups are from (example: Texas cluster), an issue or identity (examples: student cluster or anti-sweatshop cluster), or action interest (examples: street theater or lockdown).

A spokes council is the larger organizing structure used in the affinity group model to coordinate a mass action. Each affinity group (or cluster) empowers a spoke (representative) to go to a spokes council meeting to decide on important issues for the action. For instance, affinity groups need to decide on a legal/jail strategy, possible tactical issues, meeting places, and many other logistics. A spokes council does not take away an individual affinity group’s autonomy within an action; affinity groups make there own decisions about what they want to do on the streets (as long as it fits in with any action guidelines.) All decisions in spokes councils are made by consensus, so that all affinity groups have agreed and are committed to the mass direct action.

Affinity group resources

History of affinity groups

The idea of affinity groups comes out of the anarchist and workers movement that was created in the late 19th century and fought fascism in Spain during the Spanish Civil War. The Spanish Anarchist movement provides an exhilarating example of a movement, and the actual possibility of a society based on decentralized organization, direct democracy and the principles behind them.

Small circles of good friends, called “tertulias” would meet at cafes to discuss ideas and plan actions. In 1888, a period of intense class conflict in Europe and of local insurrection and struggle in Spain, the Anarchist Organization of the Spanish Region made this traditional form (tertulias) the basis of its organization.

Decades later, the Iberian Anarchist Federation, which contained 50,000 activists, organized into affinity groups and confederated into local, regional, and national councils. Wherever several FAI affinity groups existed, they formed a local federation. Local federations were coordinated by committees were made up of one mandated delegate from each affinity group. Mandated delegates were sent from local federations to regional committees and finally to the Peninsular Committee. Affinity groups remained autonomous as they carried out education, organized and supported local struggles. The intimacy of the groups made police infiltration difficult.

In July 1936, Francisco Franco, with a group of fascist generals, launched a military revolt to take power from Spain’s government. Spanish workers and peasants armed themselves and defeated the military throughout much of the country, particularly in Anarchist strongholds. Millions of Spaniards took action to restructure society along revolutionary lines, not revive the treacherous Spanish government.

Factories, transportation, telephones and even wholesale and retail stores were taken over and run collectively; an estimated 1200-1800 self-managed workers’ collectives were formed. Workers’ self-management effectively replaced the remnants of government and private institutions, providing the everyday necessities of life – food, clothing, shelter, and public services. The experience of working in non-hierarchical affinity groups created the conditions for 6 million people in Spain to reorganize society along revolutionary principles, organizing workplaces, agriculture, and communities without bosses and government.

The idea of large-scale affinity group based organization was planted in the United States on April 30, 1977 when 2,500 people, organized into affinity groups, occupied the Seabrook, New Hampshire nuclear power plant. The growing anti-nuclear power and disarmament movements adopted this mode, and used it in many successful actions throughout the late 1970s and 1980s. Since then, it has been used by the Cental America solidarity movement, lesbian/gay liberation movement, Earth First and earth liberation movement, and many others.

Most recently, affinity groups have been used in the mass actions in Seattle for the WTO and Washington DC for the IMF and World Bank, as well as Philadelphia and Los Angeles around the Republican and Democratic National Conventions.

Roles within the affinity group

Take turns so that everyone gets a chance to try different roles.

- At meetings: facilitator(s), timekeeper, recorder, vibes-watcher.

- During an action: those risking arrest, support persons (and during a mass action, affinity group spokespersons).

Affinity Group Support

The role of support in a civil disobedience action is crucial. Support people accept the responsibility of being contacts to the outside once a member of the affinity group is arrested. During and after a mass action support members need to stay in touch with support people from other affinity groups, for information sharing and emotional support.

 Support Before an Action:

  • Know the people in your affinity group by name and description.
  • Know where people who are arrested are likely to be taken.
  • Make a confidential list with the following information:
    • Name of arrestee,
    • Name, if any, used for arrest.
  • Know whether or not each individual wants bail, and when.
  • Know whom arrestee would like contacted and under what circumstances.
  • Know medical or other special needs.
  • Know whether the individual plans to cooperate and in what ways.
  • Know whether the person wants a lawyer.
  • Know whether the person is a minor.

Additional Support Before a Mass Action:

        Know who the support coordinators are.

        Know the phone number of the action office.

        Be sure group fills out group check-in sheet or other paperwork for the action office.

        Be sure your name, phone number, where you can be reached, and how long you will be available to do support work are written on your affinity group’s list.
Support During an Action:

  • Know boundaries of arrest and non-arrest areas.
  • Give emergency info about yourself to another support person.
  • Bring lots of food and water for your affinity group.
  • Bring a big first aid kit.
  • Bring paper and pens and, if possible, a camera or video camera.
  • Hold money, keys and other things for those getting arrested.
  • Keep in touch with arrestees as long as possible, noting any changes in arrest strategies, etc.
  • Once arrests begin, write down each individual’s name, and the time and nature of the arrest (get name and badge number of officer); note whether there was any police misconduct (brutality, inappropriate words).
  • At least one support person should stay at place of arrest until all members of your group are arrested, and at least one should go to where those arrested are being taken.

Support After Arrests:

  • Call whomever needs to be informed about each person arrested.   ‘
  • Go to any court appearances of those arrested.
  • Help gather information needed by those in jail.
  • In large actions, let office and/or coordinators know when you have to leave town and make sure to leave them all relevant information.
  • If activists are in jail, make sure to have someone near a phone at all times, so that all calls from jail can be received.
  • Contact office to tell them about people in jail (who, how many, in which cellblock/dorm/pod, what needs).
  • Visit your group members in jail, and pass on any messages.
  • Take care of kids, pets, cars, plants, etc., for those in jail.
  • Write letters to the people in jail; organize support vigil in front of the jail.
  • Be there to pick activists up when they are released from jail.
  • Support other support people — working together will ease the load.

Support at the Courthouse:

Be present during court appearances, and try to keep track of the following information for each person your affinity group. During a mass action, call this information into the office.

  • Name of defendant; Jane/John Doe number, if no name.
  • Charge(s).
  • Plea: Demurrer, Not Guilty, Guilty, No Contest, “Creative Plea.”
  • If guilty or no contest, sentence imposed.
  • If demurrer or not guilty:
  • Amount of bail, if applicable.
  • Whether bail is paid or not.
  • Date, time and place of next court appearance.
  • Name of judge or magistrate.
  • Name of defense lawyer.
  • Name of prosecutor.
  • Any other information which seems relevant.

SAMPLE: 1st Affinity Group Meeting Agenda

Pick a Facilitator

Intros –Name and why you think participating in this action is important

Introduction to the action – Who, what, when, where, how. Any Questions?

Reportback from Spokescouncil – what actions are already happening? What intersections/buildings are already taken?

Tactics go round – What tactics would you like to employ, is there anything you are not comfortable with?

Target – What target would you like to take on, using what tactics?

Resources – People, hardware, art, music, media, training. Brainstorm. Break it into things the affinity group can provide and things you might want to ask the working groups for help with, e.i. trainings or blockade tools.

Decide on some Affinity Group Roles – The starred roles are more important than the others: *direct support, *police liaison, media liaison, *medic, photographer, videographer, *comms (communicate with the other groups), *jail support, props coordinator. For a complete list, see http://www.actagainstwar.org/article.php?id=16.

Affinity Group Status – Do you want to have an open affinity group (anyone can join), invite only, or do you already have enough people? If its invite only, brainstorm possible invitees.

Cluster Status – Open/invite/closed. Any affinity groups you might want to cluster with?

Spoke – Pick a spoke for the next spokescouncil meeting

Next Meeting – Pick a time, date, and facilitator for your next affinity group meeting and/or cluster meeting